This page was last updated on April 22, 2004.
“The worst crime against working people is a company that fails to operate at a profit.” – Samuel Gompers
If you expect union-bashing content, you will be disappointed. I will be critical, particularly of union management, but I avoid mindless bashing and name-calling. I don’t believe business owners – or anyone for that matter – are angels either.
Though I’m critical of labor union management, labor unions can serve a useful purpose when union management isn’t manipulating them for purposes completely unrelated to collective bargaining.
Nothing speaks more about the failure of union management to keep unions relevant than the fact that less than 9% of U.S. private sector workers are union members. Even 9% is an overstatement because many of these members were forced to join because of closed shop/monopoly bargaining laws.
Unions had an honorable goal in the infancy of the labor movement. Because the industrial revolution was relatively new, there were few worker protections in law and business owners frequently took unfair advantage of their largely undereducated employees. Workers formed unions to give workers a credible voice with which to negotiate with owners. Much of today’s labor law is the result of the early labor movement. Most of that legislation is good, but much of it allows labor management to trample worker rights.
In fairness, unions are not alone in having their founding ideals morphed into something far less honorable. How often during history did we see Christian beliefs hijacked to further the economic, political, and social power of the elite? Today we hear Islamic extremists telling us their murderous exploits are in the name of Allah.
When I refer to union management beliefs, I don’t claim every single union manager has these beliefs. I know there are a few managers at the local level who are trying to do the right thing.
Make no mistake about it; labor unions are businesses. They are the equivalent of “sports agents” for the masses. Union management’s business is to collect taxes (dues) from members so the money can be donated to friendly (read: Democrat or liberal Republican) political candidates. In return for the donations, union management gets political power. For today’s union management, worker advocacy is merely a nuisance required to extract dues from worker paychecks. In some cases, union management takes at least 1.5% of a worker’s paycheck!
Whenever anyone questions the relevance of unions in today’s world, we get stories from the 1800s and early 1900s. In truth, the positive successes of the labor movement past – such as modern labor laws – have made irrelevant a lot of what union management tries to sell today.
We even hear about the “Steel Police” and violence against workers. The problem with this is organized employer violence against employees disappeared long ago. Are there exceptions to this rule? Probably.
Today, the organized violence comes predominantly from – or isn’t sufficiently attacked by – union management. As recently as 2002, the United Steelworkers of America union was fined for violence during a lockout/strike when the violence was captured on videotape. Union management constantly claims to be against violence, yet they always attempt to negotiate contracts in which violent strikers keep their jobs.
As addressed below, about the only area where union management is not stuck in the past is in core beliefs.
Consider the following quotes of Samuel Gompers. Gompers was a father of the American labor movement, founder of the American Federation of Labor (AFL), and AFL president for 38 years until his death.
Can you imagine anyone in today’s union management saying these words? Today positions like those above earn the labels of anti-union and right-wing extremist. Who would have thought Samuel Gompers was a right-wing extremist? Of course, Gompers was anything but a right-wing extremist. The fact that Gompers’ quotes would be considered those of a right-wing extremist by today’s union management is an indication of how far off the course union management strayed.
The guiding principle of the AFL during Gompers’ tenure was to concentrate on collective bargaining with employers and on legislative issues only when they directly affected the job. Pursuit of broad political and social goals was left to others. This approach is in stark contrast to today’s union management.
When communism and socialism cropped up, the followers gradually infiltrated labor union management. This contamination of the labor movement with communist and socialist ideals continues to this day.
When it comes to a choice between union management and workers, union management will pick itself over workers. Here are several examples.
The following excerpt from a Wall Street Journal article says it all.5
“Far be it from us to deny that even in the best of capitalist societies there lurk heartless employers who ride roughshod over collective bargaining agreements and refuse to recognize their employees’ unions. An administrative law judge for the National Labor Relations Board recently issued a ruling pointing to one of them: the Kansas AFL-CIO.
“That’s right. When Connie Stewart was presented with a pink slip by the Kansas AFL-CIO after 26 years of faithful service, she didn’t go quietly. Ms. Stewart protested that the layoff violated not only her seniority but the collective bargaining agreement with the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), the in-house union that represented her. Whereupon her bosses responded like something out of ‘Norma Rae’: What union? they asked. We don’t see no union.
“Though the Kansas AFL-CIO had been collecting dues on behalf of the OPEIU for decades, its officials argued that the union really didn’t represent Ms. Stewart and the other employees.
“In any event the judge quickly saw through it all, pointedly noting that he found the explanations given by the Kansas AFL-CIO’s executive secretary ‘labored, unconvincing, and utterly deceitful.’ It does our heart good to see another union-busting boss brought to justice.”
You can find the judge’s decision on the NLRB web site.
As reported by the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation (NRTW), government has granted union management 10 special privileges.6
You can find the details behind these privileges at the NRTW web site.
When they can’t sell their product on its merits, union management employs coercion tactics when possible. When unions were truly relevant, they had no trouble organizing workers by going directly to the workers. Today union management resorts to coercion from the top, or “top-down organizing.”
Because they share common socialist beliefs, union management and Democrats are natural allies. With respect to the workplace, union management believes in the supremacy of the union over the business – and the worker. Likewise, Democrats believe in the supremacy of government over the individual and the private sector. Therefore, legislation supported by union management tends to further the Democrat agenda and vice versa.
The symbiotic relationship of Democrats and union management is revealed most by campaign contribution records. In 2002, union management used $3.6 million of worker wages to make political contributions to candidates for Pennsylvania office. 88.8% went to Democrat Party candidates.
I don’t know the political orientation of union members, but I doubt 89% of rank-and-file workers are Democrats.
Here’s an example of union management trying to subvert a Republican primary election. Transportation Communications International Union management sent union members a letter encouraging Democrats to switch temporarily their party registration so they could vote in the Republican primary for incumbent Sen. Specter in order to defeat Rep. Pat Toomey.7 Union management wants to make sure that if a Democrat doesn’t win the Senate seat in the general election, the liberal Sen. Specter will. I believe this is disgraceful behavior by both union management and Sen. Specter.
If you are a union member, did you know about your Beck rights? You are in the minority if you answer “yes.” Not only does union management tend not to tell you about your Beck rights, union management works hard to make sure no one else does either. In 2002, President Bush issued executive order 13201 that required companies with federal contracts to inform workers of their Beck rights. Predictably, union managers sought and initially won an invalidation of the order. The order was upheld on appeal, however.
In 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor updated union reporting requirements so workers would have a better idea of how union management spent worker dues. The previous rules were so lax that union management could spend millions of dollars of worker wages on expenses labeled simply “miscellaneous.” Predictably, union management went to court to have the new rules overturned. The very same people who were screaming for greater visibility into business financial records because of “evil corporate greed” went to court to avoid visibility rules for unions nowhere near as stringent as those for other businesses. Union management cried that the new rules would be too expensive to implement. Don’t believe it for a second. Union management believes the less workers know about union financial activities, the better.
In Communication Workers of America v. Beck (1988), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled union management could not forcibly collect dues for activities not directly related to collective bargaining. This decision applies whether or not you work in a closed shop. The basis of the decision is that union management violates workers’ First Amendment rights when union management forces workers to contribute to candidates and charities they oppose. For example, if you are Republican, why must you contribute to Democrat candidates via your dues?
As a result of the Beck decision, a worker can refuse to pay dues in excess of that required to support collective bargaining activities. To make sure there are no shenanigans, union management must provide a detailed audit to show how dues are spent.
Quoting Thomas Jefferson, “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical.”
“The workers in America adhere to voluntary institutions in preference to compulsory systems which are not only impractical but a menace to their welfare and their liberty.” – Samuel Gompers
Union management would like workers to believe right-to-work laws remove the workers’ right to unionize. This is nothing but an untrue scare tactic. RTW laws actually give workers more rights with respect to unions. Perhaps the biggest change RTW laws provide is that closed shop/monopoly bargaining laws are repealed. That is, if you want to work at a company and a union represents some employees, union membership is not an employment condition. This means the worker can choose to join an existing union, try to get another union to represent him, or he can represent himself. Union management fears workers with the right to choose individual representation.
Union management opposes RTW legislation because it transfers power from union management to the workers.
Democrats and union management like to tell us western Pennsylvania doesn’t have a bad labor reputation. The local media join in this counterproductive denial.
Whether you support union management or not, you are in denial if you don’t believe western Pennsylvania has a poor labor reputation. This deservedly poor reputation affects both existing and new businesses. Existing businesses must think twice about expanding or staying in the area. New businesses looking for a home think twice when they realize the odds of regular labor unrest here are higher than in other parts of the United States.
We can’t begin to address this problem until we admit there is a problem.
4. EEOC alleges bias at AK Steel, Jefferson pain center; Jim McKay; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; September 10, 2003.
7. Union Urges Penn. Voters to Choose Specter Over Toomey; Associated Press; FoxNews.com; March 24, 2004.
9. Union won’t relent on grievance over student club’s park cleanup; Bob Bauder; Beaver County Times; August 14, 2003.
11. Rallying cry - Medical Center workers consider unionization effort; Jonathan Evans; Beaver County Times; September 17, 2002.
15. Janitors take to streets, but not to clean up; KDKA Radio; March 12, 2004.
17. Board says janitors can’t picket Centre City; Pittsburgh Business Times March 12, 2004.
20. School employee strikes doubled in 2002-03 school year; Pennsylvania School Boards Association.
© 2004 Robert W. Cox, all rights reserved.